EDMONTON – One person is dead and another is in critical condition following an explosion at an oilsands site in northern Alberta Friday.
The explosion happened inside a building in the compressed gas area at the Nexen Long Lake facility at around 3:20 p.m. as workers were changing out valves on a compressor.
“A hydrocracker on site may have caused the explosion. That’s early indications, of course,” Acting Staff Sgt. Jeremie Landry said Friday night.
RCMP were called to the site, which is about 80 km south of Fort McMurrary, just before 5 p.m.
“Our emergency response plan has been activated and response personnel, including first responders from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, are on site,” Nexen Energy said in a statement Friday evening.
“We are deeply saddened to confirm one fatality and a second person is at (the) hospital. All other personnel are accounted for.”
Brad Grainger, deputy chief of operations with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, said the person sent to hospital suffered severe burns. That person was transferred to the burn centre at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton. He’s in critical condition. His identity isn’t known.
The other person was pronounced dead at the scene.
Nexen said it’s one of the darkest days in its history.
“Every day we strive to send our employees home safe to their families, and yesterday we did not live up to that,” Ron Bailey, Nexen senior vice-president of Canadian operations, said.
From above the site, a section of the building appeared to be extensively damaged because of the blast.
A large portion of the plant was already not in operation because of a pipeline rupture last July, which resulted in about five million litres of bitumen, sand and produced water being leaked. The break occurred about one kilometre from the Long Lake plant.
Nexen had still been making repairs under the watch of the Alberta energy regulator.
The AER ordered Nexen to suspend operations at 95 of its pipelines, due to “noncompliant activities at Long Lake oilsands operations” to do with pipeline maintenance and monitoring.
In September 2015, the AER allowed Nexen Energy to partially resume operations.
After Friday’s fatal explosion, the Nexen facility was shut down. There is no immediate danger to the neighbouring communities or anyone on site, the company said. Occupational Health and Safety said operations will remain suspended “until it is safe to return to work.”
AER said Monday it was still working to safely shut down the plant, but the cold weather was presenting a challenge since the pipes cannot freeze. AER is working to ensure all regulatory and safety requirements are met. OHS has control of the site.
Landry said at this point there is no reason to believe the explosion was a criminal act.
Calgary-based Nexen Energy ULC was acquired by China’s state-owned CNOOC Ltd. more than two years ago.
Long Lake is designed to produce up to 72,000 barrels of bitumen per day.
With files from The Canadian Press.